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Time Scale 7 - From Farm to City
Events - < 61
The first boats:
10,000 years ago
62
The Neolithic Revolution:
10,000 years ago
63
The origins of metallurgy:
8,000 years ago
64
Ships and horse-riding:
6,000 to 5,000 years ago
65
Cities & complex societies:
5,500 years ago
66
Origins of writing:
5,500 years ago (3500 BC)
67
Wheeled vehicles:
5,000 years ago (3000 BC)
68
The Iron Age:
3,500 years ago (1500 BC)
69
The first democracy:
2,560 years ago (550 BC)
70
Large-scaleurban planning:
2,210 years ago (200 BC)
>

Event 66

“WRITE THIS DOWN”
THE ORIGINS OF WRITING
5,500 years ago

 

Amarna Letters, cuneiform
This clay tablet is one of about 382 Amarna letters, circa 1388-1332 BC (3,388-3,332 years ago), written in Akkadian cuneiform, an ancient Mesopotamian writing system.
Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

We take writing for granted – whether it is in the form of actual physical objects with writing on them - such as books, newspapers, magazines – or, today, in the form of electronic print, such as electronic books, emails, electronic newspapers, blogs, twitters, or text messaging. It is somewhat hard to believe that people haven’t always communicated through written words, but this is a fairly recent invention, introduced more than 160,000 years after modern humans arrived on the scene, long after the development of modern human language, and even thousands of years after humans ‘settled down’ and started producing our own food. It was with the rise of complex societies that it became more necessary to make records of important information: crop and material inventories, laws, religious texts, and historical events. In many parts of the world (the Near East, Europe, China, Egypt, and Mesoamerica) people began to use signs and symbols to stand for specific words or for specific sounds in their language. This was, in essence, an Information Revolution: no longer was oral tradition and memory required to maintain important facts. It could be written down.

Each society that went down this pathway had to work out their own way to transcribe the spoken words of their society into some system of symbols, and some way to physically write them down, in order to convey the meanings of their words. Writing seems to have developed independently in a number of civilizations, but sometimes the idea of writing also seems to have spread from one culture to another and then the specific ways of transcribing the spoken word worked out locally.

In Sumeria, the very first writing was made on wet clay tablets using a wooden stylus (called cuneiform). In China, written language can be traced from symbols on oracle bones to pottery, bronze, and finally paper. In Egypt and Mesoamerica, glyphs were invented that represented sounds of words that could be combined to make complete words. Distinction is sometimes made between what is called “proto-writing,” in which symbols or “glyphs” may represent for instance an idea, but not represent the actual spoken sounds associated with the idea. In a later, more advanced form of writing, the symbols tend to represent sounds, either through representing the whole word or syllables or, as in the case of our alphabet, for instance, sounds.

 

 


 

 

HOW DO WE KNOW?

The earliest known writing is found on clay tablets in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). As time proceeded, writing would be found on a range of materials: clay, stone, papyrus, painting, and preserved textiles. Many of these ancient languages have been translated, but some have yet to be deciphered.


WHY SHOULD I CARE?

Writing allows information to be recorded for long-term storage ad retrieval, and creates a more permanent record. We tend to take writing for granted in our modern lives, but at one time this was an absolutely revolutionary innovation. With writing, information and ideas can be spread far and wide and be passed down for generations.

 


 

WEB RESOURCES

This website discusses the origins of many writing systems.
http://www.ancientscripts.com/ws_origins.html

This is another webpage that talks about writing origins.
http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab33

This Wikipedia webpage is more detailed survey of the earliest writing systems.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing

This BBC News article is about the earliest evidence of writing found in China, dating to 6,600 B.C.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2956925.stm

 

 

 

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1

"From Nothing to Everything:
The Origins of the Universe,
the Solar System, Earth, and Life"
13.7 billion to 1 billion years ago

.

"From Nothing to Everything:
The Origins of the Universe, the Solar System, Earth, and Life"
13.7 billion to 1 billion years ago

View Time Scale >>

1

"The Big Bang"
The Origins of Matter, Energy, Space, and Time
13.7 billion years ago

"The Big Bang"
The Origins of Matter, Energy, Space, and Time
13.7 billion years ago

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2

"Great Balls of Fire"
The First Stars
13.5 billion years ago

"Great Balls of Fire"
The First Stars
13.5 billion years ago

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3

"Cosmic Alchemy"
The Creation of the Heavier Elements
13.4 billion years ago

"Cosmic Alchemy"
The Creation of the Heavier Elements
13.4 billion years ago

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4

"Spinning Wheels"
The First Galaxies
13 billion years ago

"Spinning Wheels"
The First Galaxies
13 billion years ago

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5

"Here Comes the Sun"
The Birth of the Solar System, Including the Earth
4.6 billion years ago

"Here Comes the Sun"
The Birth of the Solar System, Including the Earth
4.6 billion years ago

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6

"Earth, Wind and Fire"
The First Rocks, Oceans and Atmosphere
4.5 billion years ago

"Earth, Wind and Fire"
The First Rocks, Oceans and Atmosphere
4.5 billion years ago

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7

"Just Add Water"
The Origins of Life
3.8 billion years ago

"Just Add Water"
The Origins of Life
3.8 billion years ago

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8

"The Great Rust"
The Addition of Oxygen to the Atmosphere and Oceans
3 billion years ago

"The Great Rust"
The Addition of Oxygen to the Atmosphere and Oceans
3 billion years ago

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9

"Snowball Earth"
The First Ice Ages
2.2 billion years ago

"Snowball Earth"
The First Ice Ages
2.2 billion years ago

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10

"Kingdom of Beasts"
The Rise of Animals
1 billion years ago

"Kingdom of Beasts"
The Rise of Animals
1 billion years ago

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2

"All Creatures Great and Small:
The Cambrian Explosion of
Animal Life and its Aftershocks"
1 billion to 100 million years ago

.

"Animal House:
The Cambrian Explosion of Animal Life and its Aftershocks"
1 billion to 100 million years ago

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11

"Movers and Shakers"
The First Definite Multicellular Animals
600 million years ago

"Movers and Shakers"
The First Definite Multicellular Animals
600 million years ago

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12

"AnimalHouse"
The Cambrian Explosion
543 million years ago

"AnimalHouse"
The Cambrian Explosion
543 million years ago

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13

"In Search of the Lost Chordate"
Finding the Ancestor of Vertebrates (and Ourselves)
530 million years ago

"In Search of the Lost Chordate"
Finding the Ancestor of Vertebrates (and Ourselves)
530 million years ago

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14

"Get a Backbone"
The Rise of the Vertebrates
525 million years ago

"Get a Backbone"
The Rise of the Vertebrates
525 million years ago

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15

"Get out of the Pool"
Early Amphibians
360 million years ago

"Get out of the Pool"
Early Amphibians
360 million years ago

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16

"Landlubbers"
The First Reptiles
315 million years ago

"Landlubbers"
The First Reptiles
315 million years ago

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17

"The Great Dying"
The Permian Extinction
250 million years ago

"The Great Dying"
The Permian Extinction
250 million years ago

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18

"Got Milk?"
Early Mammals and Dinosaurs
220 - 200 million years ago

"Got Milk?"
Early Mammals and Dinosaurs
220 - 200 million years ago

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19

"Up, Up, and Away"
The Earliest Birds
145 million years ago

"Up, Up, and Away"
The Earliest Birds
145 million years ago

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20

"Flower Power"
The First Flowering Plants
125 million years ago

"Flower Power"
The First Flowering Plants
125 million years ago

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3

"The Meek Inheritors: the Dinosaur Extinction
and the Rise of Mammals"
100 million to 10 million years ago

.

"The Meek Inheritors: the Dinosaur Extinction and the Rise of Mammals"
100 million to 10 million years ago

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21

"Cretaceous Park"
The Later Dinosaurs
95-65 million years ago

"Cretaceous Park"
The Later Dinosaurs
95-65 million years ago

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22

"One Extraterrestial Impact Can Ruin your Whole Day":
The Dinosaur Extinction
65 million years ago

"One Extraterrestial Impact Can Ruin your Whole Day":
The Dinosaur Extinction
65 million years ago

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23

"A Warm and Fuzzy Feeling"
The Mammalian Radiation
60 million years ago

"A Warm and Fuzzy Feeling"
The Mammalian Radiation
60 million years ago

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24

"Orogenous Zone"
The Rise of the Himalayas
55 million years ago

"Orogenous Zone"
The Rise of the Himalayas
55 million years ago

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25

"Of the First Order"
The Radiation of the Primates
55 million years ago

"Of the First Order"
The Radiation of the Primates
55 million years ago

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26

"The Land Down Under"
The Origin of Australia and its Animals
40 million years ago

"The Land Down Under"
The Origin of Australia and its Animals
40 million years ago

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27

"Hey, Hey, We're the Monkeys"
The Rise of Monkeys
35 million years ago

"Hey, Hey, We're the Monkeys"
The Rise of Monkeys
35 million years ago

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28

"Grazing in the Grass"
The Spread of Grasslands and Grazing Animals
Beginning 25 million years ago

"Grazing in the Grass"
The Spread of Grasslands and Grazing Animals
Beginning 25 million years ago

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29

"The Sultans of Swing"
The Rise of Apes
23 million years ago

"The Sultans of Swing"
The Rise of Apes
23 million years ago

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30

"Father of Kong"
The Earliest Gorilla-like Forms
10 million years ago

"Father of Kong"
The Earliest Gorilla-like Forms
10 million years ago

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4

"Upstanding Apes:
The Rise of Hominids,
the Role of Rock,
and Food for Thought"
10 million to 1 million years ago

.

"Upstanding Apes:
The Rise of Hominids, the Role of Rock, and Food for Thought"
10 million to 1 million years ago

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31

"Branching Out"
The Last Shared Ancestor of Apes and Humans
7 million years ago

"Branching Out"
The Last Shared Ancestor of Apes and Humans
7 million years ago

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32

"Upstanding Apes"
The Earliest Bipedal Hominins
6 to 4 million years ago

"Upstanding Apes"
The Earliest Bipedal Hominins
6 to 4 million years ago

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33

"I am an Ape-Man"
The Earlier Australopithecine
4.0-2.5 million years ago

"I am an Ape-Man"
The Earlier Australopithecine
4.0-2.5 million years ago

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34

"The Big Chill"
The Beginning of Climatic Cooling
3 to 2 million years ago

"The Big Chill"
The Beginning of Climatic Cooling
3 to 2 million years ago

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35

"Our Poor Cousins"
The Later Australopithecine and their Extinction
2.6-1.0 million yeas ago

"Our Poor Cousins"
The Later Australopithecine and their Extinction
2.6-1.0 million yeas ago

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36

"The Role of Rock"
The Earliest Stone Tools
2.6 million years ago

"The Role of Rock"
The Earliest Stone Tools
2.6 million years ago

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37

"I'm Your Handy Man"
The Emergence of the Genus Homo and Brain Expansion
1.9-1.5 million years ago

"I'm Your Handy Man"
The Emergence of the Genus Homo and Brain Expansion
1.9-1.5 million years ago

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38

"Bigger and Badder"
The Emergence of Homo Erectus
1.8 million years ago

"Bigger and Badder"
The Emergence of Homo Erectus
1.8 million years ago

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39

"Out of Africa"
The Earliest Eurasians
1.8 million years ago

"Out of Africa"
The Earliest Eurasians
1.8 million years ago

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40

"Axes of Power"
The Invention of the Handaxe
1.76 million years ago

"Axes of Power"
The Invention of the Handaxe
1.76 million years ago

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5

"Becoming Human (or Just About):
The Rise of Homo Sapiens
and Our Neanderthal Cousins"
1 million to 100,000 years ago

.

"Becoming Human (or Just About):
The Rise of Homo Sapiens and Our Neanderthal Cousins"
1 million to 100,000 years ago

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41

"Big Brains, Big Faces"
Homo heidelbergensis and Probably Language
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

"Big Brains, Big Faces"
Homo heidelbergensis and Probably Language
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

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42

"Fearful Symmetry"
Later Refined Handaxes
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

"Fearful Symmetry"
Later Refined Handaxes
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

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43

"Bring Out Your Dead"
The Origins of Ritual Behavior
400,000 years ago

"Bring Out Your Dead"
The Origins of Ritual Behavior
400,000 years ago

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44

"Get the Point?"
The First Spears
400,000 years ago

"Get the Point?"
The First Spears
400,000 years ago

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45

"Chips Off the Old Block"
Prepared Core Technologies
300,000 years ago

"Chips Off the Old Block"
Prepared Core Technologies
300,000 years ago

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46

"Light My Fire"
The Controlled Use of Fire
300,000 years ago

"Light My Fire"
The Controlled Use of Fire
300,000 years ago

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47

"Almost Human"
Neandertals and Nearly Modern Humans
Beginning 250,000 years ago

"Almost Human"
Neandertals and Nearly Modern Humans
Beginning 250,000 years ago

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48

"Welcome to Middle Earth"
The Middle Palaeolithic
Beginning 250,000 years ago

"Welcome to Middle Earth"
The Middle Palaeolithic
Beginning 250,000 years ago

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49

"Seashells by the Seashore"
Intensive Exploitation of Seafoods
165,000 years ago

"Seashells by the Seashore"
Intensive Exploitation of Seafoods
165,000 years ago

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50

"A Modern Stone Age Family"
The Emergence of Homo Sapiens
160,000 years ago

"A Modern Stone Age Family"
The Emergence of Homo Sapiens
160,000 years ago

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6

"The Creative Explosion:
The Rise of Symbolism, Language,
Religion, Art, and Music"
100,000 to 10,000 years ago

.

"The Creative Explosion:
The Rise of Symbolism, Language, Religion, Art, and Music"
100,000 to 10,000 years ago

View Time Scale >>

51

"Points of Conflict"
The Earliest Compound Tools & Points
100,000 years ago

"Points of Conflict"
The Earliest Compound Tools & Points
100,000 years ago

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52

"Rest in Peace"
The First Burials
90,000 years ago

"Rest in Peace"
The First Burials
90,000 years ago

View Event >>

53

"Bling-Bling"
The First Personal Decoration
80,000 years ago

"Bling-Bling"
The First Personal Decoration
80,000 years ago

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54

"A Roof Over Your Head"
The First Architecture
42,000 years ago

"A Roof Over Your Head"
The First Architecture
42,000 years ago

View Event >>

55

"Blade Runners"
Upper Palaeolithic Blade Technologies
40,000 years ago

"Blade Runners"
Upper Palaeolithic Blade Technologies
40,000 years ago

View Event >>

56

"Brave New Worlds"
The Peopling of Australia and the Americas
40,000 to 12,000 years ago

"Brave New Worlds"
The Peopling of Australia and the Americas
40,000 to 12,000 years ago

View Event >>

57

"Express Yourself"
The First Representational Art & Music
35,000 years ago

"Express Yourself"
The First Representational Art & Music
35,000 years ago

View Event >>

58

"A Stitch in Time"
The First Needles and Sewing
25,000 years ago

"A Stitch in Time"
The First Needles and Sewing
25,000 years ago

View Event >>

59

"Bend Me, Shape Me"
The First Pottery
16,000 years ago

"Bend Me, Shape Me"
The First Pottery
16,000 years ago

View Event >>

60

"Draw Back Your Bow"
The First Bow and Arrow
11,000 years ago

"Draw Back Your Bow"
The First Bow and Arrow
11,000 years ago

View Event >>

7

"From Farm to the City:
The Neolithic and Urban Revolutions
and their Consequences"
10,000 to 1,000 years ago

.

"From Farm to the City:
The Neolithic and Urban Revolutions and their Consequences"
10,000 to 1,000 years ago

View Time Scale >>

61

"Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
The First Boats
10,000 years ago

"Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
The First Boats
10,000 years ago

View Event >>

62

"Down on the Farm"
The Neolithic Revolution
10,000 years ago

"Down on the Farm"
The Neolithic Revolution
10,000 years ago

View Event >>

63

"Heavy Metal"
The Origins of Metallurgy
8,000 years ago

"Heavy Metal"
The Origins of Metallurgy
8,000 years ago

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64

"Easy Riders"
The Development of Ships and Mounted Horse Transportation
6,000 to 5,000 years ago

"Easy Riders"
The Development of Ships and Mounted Horse Transportation
6,000 to 5,000 years ago

View Event >>

65

"We Built This City"
Cities and Complex Societies
5,500 years ago

"We Built This City"
Cities and Complex Societies
5,500 years ago

View Event >>

66

"Write This Down"
The Origins of Writing and Notation
5,000 years ago

"Write This Down"
The Origins of Writing and Notation
5,000 years ago

View Event >>

67

"Big Wheels Keep on Turnin"
Wheeled Vehicles
5,000 years ago

"Big Wheels Keep on Turnin"
Wheeled Vehicles
5,000 years ago

View Event >>

68

"Iron Man"
The Iron Age
3,500 years ago (1500 BC)

"Iron Man"
The Iron Age
3,500 years ago (1500 BC)

View Event >>

69

"Power to the People"
The First Democracy
2,560 years ago (550 BC)

"Power to the People"
The First Democracy
2,560 years ago (550 BC)

View Event >>

70

"What's Your Plan?"
Large-scale Urban Planning
2,210 years ago (200 B.C.)

"What's Your Plan?"
Large-scale Urban Planning
2,210 years ago (200 B.C.)

View Event >>

8

"Ages of Enlightenment:
From the Dark Ages of Superstition
to the Scientific Revolution"
1,000 to 100 years ago

.

"Ages of Enlightenment:
From the Dark Ages of Superstition to the Scientific Revolution"
1,000 to 100 years ago

View Time Scale >>

71

"Fire and Brimstone"
The Rise of Firearms
Beginning 1300 AD

"Fire and Brimstone"
The Rise of Firearms
Beginning 1300 AD

View Event >>

72

"A Reawakening"
The Renaissance in the Western World
Beginning 1400 AD

"A Reawakening"
The Renaissance in the Western World
Beginning 1400 AD

View Event >>

73

"Land Ho!"
Age of Exploration & Exploitation
Beginning 1400 AD

"Land Ho!"
Age of Exploration & Exploitation
Beginning 1400 AD

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74

"Hot off the Presses"
The Printing Press and Movable Type
Beginning 1455 AD

"Hot off the Presses"
The Printing Press and Movable Type
Beginning 1455 AD

View Event >>

75

"From Superstition to Science"
The Scientific Revolution
Beginning 1543 AD

"From Superstition to Science"
The Scientific Revolution
Beginning 1543 AD

View Event >>

76

"All Fired Up"
The Industrial Revolution
Beginning 1760 AD

"All Fired Up"
The Industrial Revolution
Beginning 1760 AD

View Event >>

77

"Start Me Up"
Powered Modern Transport
Beginning 1802 AD

"Start Me Up"
Powered Modern Transport
Beginning 1802 AD

View Event >>

78

"You Oughta Be in Pictures"
Photography and Cinematography
Beginning 1826 AD

"You Oughta Be in Pictures"
Photography and Cinematography
Beginning 1826 AD

View Event >>

79

"From a Distance"
Long-Distance Communications
Beginning 1830 AD

"From a Distance"
Long-Distance Communications
Beginning 1830 AD

View Event >>

80

"Bright Lights, Big City"
Electric Light and Power
Beginning 1879 AD

"Bright Lights, Big City"
Electric Light and Power
Beginning 1879 AD

View Event >>

9

"Modern Times: The Last Century,
Laying the Foundations of
the World We Live In"
100 to 10 years ago

.

"Modern Times: The Last Century, Laying the Foundations of the World We Live In"
100 to 10 years ago

View Time Scale >>

81

"It's All Relative"
Relativity and Quantum Theory
Late 1800s, early 1900s

"It's All Relative"
Relativity and Quantum Theory
Late 1800s, early 1900s

View Event >>

82

"Rocket Man"
Rockets, Satellites, and Lunar Landings
Beginning 1926 AD

"Rocket Man"
Rockets, Satellites, and Lunar Landings
Beginning 1926 AD

View Event >>

83

"You're On the Air"
Television
Beginning 1935 AD

"You're On the Air"
Television
Beginning 1935 AD

View Event >>

84

"Bits and Bytes"
Computers, Transistors, Silicon Chips
Beginning 1937 AD

"Bits and Bytes"
Computers, Transistors, Silicon Chips
Beginning 1937 AD

View Event >>

85

"When You're a Jet"
Jet Aircraft
1939 AD

"When You're a Jet"
Jet Aircraft
1939 AD

View Event >>

86

"Miracle Drugs & Medical Devices"
Penicillin and Other Medical Advances
Beginning 1941 AD

"Miracle Drugs & Medical Devices"
Penicillin and Other Medical Advances
Beginning 1941 AD

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87

"The Genie Has Left the Bottle"
Dawn of the Atomic Age
Beginning 1942 AD

"The Genie Has Left the Bottle"
Dawn of the Atomic Age
Beginning 1942 AD

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88

"Cracking the Code"
DNA Structure & Genetic Engineering
Beginning 1953 AD

"Cracking the Code"
DNA Structure & Genetic Engineering
Beginning 1953 AD

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89

"Can You Hear Me Now?"
Advanced Telecommunications
Beginning 1973 AD

"Can You Hear Me Now?"
Advanced Telecommunications
Beginning 1973 AD

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90

"Surf's Up!"
The World Wide Web
Beginning 1989 AD

"Surf's Up!"
The World Wide Web
Beginning 1989 AD

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10

"The Age of Connections:
The Past Decade of Innovations
and Their Implications"
The last 10 years

.

"The Age of Connections:
The Past Decade of Innovations and Their Implications"
The last 10 years

View Time Scale >>

91

"Where the Heck Are We?"
Widespread Use of GPS & Satellite Imaging

"Where the Heck Are We?"
Widespread Use of GPS & Satellite Imaging

View Event >>

92

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, that Make the Strain..."
Overpopulation & Climate Change

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, that Make the Strain..."
Overpopulation & Climate Change

View Event >>

93

"Green Machines"
Alternative Energy

"Green Machines"
Alternative Energy

View Event >>

94

"Who Are You?"
The Human Genome Project

"Who Are You?"
The Human Genome Project

View Event >>

95

"Closer Encounters"
Recent Advances in Astronomy

"Closer Encounters"
Recent Advances in Astronomy

View Event >>

96

"Cellmates"
Stem Cell & Related Research

"Cellmates"
Stem Cell & Related Research

View Event >>

97

"Keep Searchin"
Widespread Use of Search Engines

"Keep Searchin"
Widespread Use of Search Engines

View Event >>

98

"Say Hello to My Little Friends"
The Rise of Nanotechnology

"Say Hello to My Little Friends"
The Rise of Nanotechnology

View Event >>

99

"Here, There, and Everywhere..."
Instantaneous Communication & World-Wide Connections

"Here, There, and Everywhere..."
Instantaneous Communication & World-Wide Connections

View Event >>

100

"Living for the Future"
The Idea of Sustainability

"Living for the Future"
The Idea of Sustainability

View Event >>